Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by:Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Sihung Lung
Released: December 21, 2000
Grade: B+

In horse racing terminology, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has a great form line.  Last September, it took top prize at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.  Three of the last four winners in Toronto have gone on to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture - American Beauty, Life Is Beautiful and Shine.  Even more significant are the films it beat home in this year’s competition - The Dish finished second and Billy Elliot finished third - two of my favourite films this year.

From Taiwan and subtitled appropriately, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon begins with great warrior Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat) donating his 400-year-old sword to Sir Te.  Through deep meditation he has come to an understanding that it is time to retire.  For years he has searched for his mentor’s killer, Jade Fox, but has realised he may never find her.

Yet as soon as the Sir Te has possession of the sword it is stolen by a masked assailant with incredible skill in martial arts.  Just who is this talented swordsman and is there any link with Jade Fox?  The answers slowly unfold...

The best way of describing the film is as a fable filled with magic and mystical beings.  I found the plot predictable and a flashback scene of some half-an-hour midway though the film was a serious distraction from the main tangent.  Regardless, Ang Lee has produced more than I could imagine from the limited screenplay.

Speaking of Ang Lee, he would comfortably be included in my top 5 list of directors based on his efforts in Sense And Sensibility and particularly The Ice Storm.  The sword fighting scenes (and there are several of them) and incredibly shot.  In so many movies, we see a duel between two swordsman begin with each competitor going back and forth before one appears to be defeated before combating with an unseen manoeuvre to win the battle.  No so in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Each individual duel was fast and intense with no needless “fencing”.  For once I enjoyed the action more than the dramatic scenes.

As Taiwan’s entry at next year’s Academy Award, I can comfortably predict Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon walking away with the best foreign language Oscar next March.  It again illustrates the difference between cultures and the hidden talent that exists in non-English speaking countries.  It’s great to see the film getting a chance on a world stage and coming through with “flying” colours.  You will be very surprised.